Here, EIS General Secretary Andrea Bradley takes a closer look at the key findings of the recent national branch survey, and explores some of the reasons behind challenging behaviours in our schools.
The results of the EIS national branch survey on violent and aggressive behaviour in schools are stark and they are deeply worrying – but they do not, sadly, come as a complete surprise.
During our recent pay dispute, many teachers across Scotland approached the EIS to tell us that, while pay was extremely important to them, there were many other issues that needed to be addressed too.
The main challenges that our members identified – crippling workload, a lack of additional support for pupils with specified needs, and a rising tide of violent and aggressive behaviour in schools – form the key priorities of our current campaign Stand Up for Quality Education.
To inform this campaign, and specifically to gauge the scale of the problem being reported through anecdote of teachers being injured, even hospitalised in some cases, as a result of violent behaviour by pupils, the EIS conducted a major national survey of schools during August and September, asking teachers about the scale of the violence problem in their school.
Almost 900 school branches responded to the survey, representing tens of thousands of Scottish teachers. We have published the findings, and they make for grim reading: neither young people who are distressed (for a variety of reasons) and who are demonstrating this through violent and aggressive behaviour, nor the teachers and other staff who work with young people in our schools, are getting the support, safety and security in our schools that they need and are entitled to by law.
Over 80% of branches reporting violent, including prejudice-based, incidents in their school every week. Half of branches stating that violence against teachers perpetrated by parents or carers is becoming more frequent.
Almost all schools reporting an increase in stress, anxiety and depression for teachers. More than three-quarters of schools saying that some of their teachers are afraid of certain pupils. Three-quarters of schools indicating that teachers have sustained physical injuries and almost two-thirds report that teachers in their school had been on sick leave following a violent and aggressive incident.
Over a quarter of branches indicating that teachers receive no support after being the victim of a violent incident. Glaringly, almost all branches – 99% – agree that violent, aggressive and disruptive behaviour in schools is having a detrimental impact on pupils’ learning.
It should not be this way, and it does not have to be this way. Our schools must be safe spaces, providing a nurturing, welcoming environment where learners and learning, and teachers and teaching, and support staff and support for young people, can flourish.
The Scottish Government and local authorities must heed the clear and urgent warning from Scotland’s teachers that’s signalled in the EIS survey report, and take swift and decisive action to ensure that our schools are safe for pupils and staff alike.
The reasons for the increase in violent behaviours in our schools are numerous and complex. The deeply traumatic experience of the Covid pandemic has clearly been a factor in the higher number of assaults against school staff in the past few years.
We have an entire generation of young people whose personal, social and emotional development was seriously inhibited by their experiences during repeated lockdowns. The loss of structure, together with the lack of social contact with peers, teachers, and other school staff, has led to an increased tendency to express anger, confusion or frustration through violence and aggression.
The EIS was clear with government and local authorities from the early stages of the pandemic that education recovery would need massive investment; a ‘business as usual’ approach such as we’ve seen, would not touch the sides.
Even without Covid, though, austerity cuts to education have clearly played a significant role in the increase in violent incidents in schools. Since 2010, whilst the numbers of young people with additional support needs has grown significantly – to a large extent as a result of poverty and deprivation – the number of specialist teachers, support staff, and other key professionals such as Educational Psychologists and Speech and Language Therapists, have declined sharply.
The loss of this vital support, at a time when more young people struggle with mental health challenges, is failing our young people while putting teachers and other staff at greater risk of verbal and physical assault.
These problems are compounded by class sizes remaining high despite the Scottish Government’s 2007 manifesto commitment to reduce them. 16 years later, young people, teachers and support staff in Scotland are still waiting for that promise to be delivered.
We know that violent incidents in schools continue to be under-reported. Some teachers are actively discouraged from reporting, instead encouraged to protect the reputation of the school. Many are encouraged to regard violence and aggression by pupils as ‘just part of the job’, something they must just accept in silence, learn to live with and then get on with it.
But violence in the workplace is not, and cannot ever be, acceptable. All employees, including Scotland’s teachers, should be encouraged to report all violent incidents and should receive the full support of their employers. Scotland’s local authorities, as the employers of teachers, have a duty of care to ensure that schools are safe places to work, as well as safe places to learn.
In publishing our report, the EIS has outlined a series of specific recommendations which set out a roadmap towards a better future for our schools. These must be acted upon collectively to ensure that our schools are safe places for all.
Education shouldn’t hurt, but education itself is currently hurting through lack of investment and a scarcity of resources. This is not an issue that is just going to go away; it will only worsen if urgent action is not taken. The Scottish Government and local authorities must act now and act together – Scotland’s learners, teachers and support staff deserve their full and unequivocal support.